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Landmines in Myanmar target civilians, maim and kill children, NGOs say

Myanmar’s military is guilty of war crimes for its alleged practice of laying landmines in populated areas where they have killed civilians, including children, two ethnic rights organizations told RFA.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Myanmar have maimed or killed at least 115 children since the military junta seized power last year, UNICEF Myanmar reported on June 24. The report said that one-third of all landmine and UXO casualties it tracked from the February 2021 coup to April 2022 were children.

In times of conflict, children are the most vulnerable, including from landmines and UXO. Since children are smaller than adults, they are more likely to take the full impact of the blast and are therefore more likely to suffer death or serious injury,” the report said.

On June 19, two seven-year-old boys were killed when they played with an unexploded artillery shell near Kan Ywar village in Gangaw township in central Myanmar’s Magway region.

Pyae Sone Aung and Min Htut Zaw found a 40mm shell and began throwing it to each other, Yu Ko, a resident of the village, told RFA.

“Afterwards, as they were hitting it with a rock, the shell exploded and the blast killed both of them,” said Yu Ko. “I heard there were three or four similar incidents elsewhere of unexploded ordnance going off once it got into children’s hands.” 

Chin state, in the country’s west, was one of the first regions in Myanmar to form militias to fight the military following the coup. 

The military has shelled populated villages in response. It has also laid landmines that appear to target civilians, Hre Lian, a spokesperson for the Chin Human Rights Group, told RFA.

“The soldiers plant landmines, and people step on them and get killed and injured,” he said. 

“They are planted purposely. The death toll from civilian casualties has risen sharply. Additionally, children are killed while playing with unexploded ordnance. Tragedies like these occurred last August when four children were killed and three were injured in Thantlang township.”

He said Thantlang, Matupi and Mindat townships were the most affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance in the state.

The junta forces are guilty of war crimes for planting landmines in villages and settlements in Kayah state, Ko Banya, spokesperson for Karenni Human Rights Watch, told RFA.

“We need to put pressure on the junta. They planted mines in areas where they cannot move as freely as in the past. They often planted landmines not only in villages but also inside buildings,” he said.

“We can say that it is a war crime because they planted these mines intentionally to kill or injure civilians. War crimes are committed with an intent to kill. We hope the perpetrators of these actions will be punished at some point.”

Around 20 civilians stepped on mines in Demoso and Hpruso townships and in the state capital Loikaw this year, two of whom have died, Ko Banya said.

RFA repeatedly attempted to contact Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a junta spokesman, for comment, without success.

He previously told RFA that the military uses landmines only for security purposes and around military camps.

A lack of mine awareness, as a result of the breakdown of government since the coup, is also to blame for civilian deaths, Aung Thu Nyein, executive director of the Myanmar Strategic and Policy Study Group, told RFA.

“I think landmine awareness programs almost stopped soon after the coup. And then, there were fewer civil society organizations and mediating groups in the peace process,” he said. 

“On the other hand, conflicts are escalating day by day. When educational talks and demining programs are lacking, the number of mine accidents naturally rises. So I think the number of victims will keep on increasing,” Aung Thu Nyein said.

In its report, UNICEF Myanmar said that the agency and its partners provided Explosive Ordnance Risk Education to 20,000 children across the country in the first five months of 2022. 

“UNICEF calls on all parties to facilitate access for assistance to victims; to stop laying mines and to clear existing mines and UXO,” the report said.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Eugene Whong.